Understanding Military Vehicle Driver Risks

Military vehicles require different expertise, experience, and techniques to drive effectively. These vehicles, and the terrain they typically traverse require a very different approach, set of driver skills, and hardware/software assistance when compared to typical civilian vehicles and highway driving. One of the primary risks associated with military mounted operations (operations where the force is primarily moved by wheeled or tracked vehicle) is the assumption that driving techniques and risks translate directly from the civilian highway to the military operating environment. The United States Department of Defense has fully implemented, and long-standing procedures for military vehicle licensing and training as well as a full suite of driver assistance software and hardware, but Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines are still at significant risk of death or injury for non-combat related vehicular incidents. One of those primary risks is vehicular rollovers.

Tactical vehicle rollovers can be the result of a combination of driver fatigue, limited visibility, rough terrain, and lack of reconnaissance and data about the operating environment. Driver fatigue when driving military vehicles is a factor that operational leaders deliberately plan for and mitigate. Driver fatigue comes on much faster for military drivers when compared to typical highway driving. Military drivers are focusing on many more risk factors and operational needs. Those factors include obstacles in roads or obstacles when driving cross country, helping to maintain effective fields of fire for the gunner in the turret, listening to and complying with maneuver instructions from the truck commander, identifying and avoiding common improvised explosive device risk factors (roadside debris, culvert crossing procedures, interaction with the local population on the road, etc), and the challenge of maneuvering and driving a much larger and heavier vehicle. There are many more distractions to the driver in a military vehicle. In the vehicle there are usually multiple radio systems on speaker, special hardware and software technologies for IED detection, and tactical commands being issued with some related to and some unrelated to specific driver commands. All of these factors result in an exponentially more challenging driving environment.

Visibility when driving under military conditions is highly limited due to line of sight challenges for the driver, but is augmented by gunner visibility, truck commander situational awareness, and technology based systems in the vehicle built to increase driver awareness. Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) series vehicles are the most common wheeled vehicles used in overseas tactical environments today. These vehicles are elevated high off the ground and are heavy. The MRAP Category 1 MaxxPro built by International is a model with one of the highest order quantities[1] and weighs in excess of 28,000 pounds and is 10 feet tall.[2] Drivers have lines of visibility that limit what they can see in the immediate vehicle surroundings. This risk is limited when driving at higher speeds on asphalt roads with traffic lines. These vehicles, however, are typically employed at slow speeds and are required to make tight tactical maneuvers on poorly maintained or dirt roads and trails. These tendencies maximize that visibility risk.

Lack of recon and terrain data is one of the primary risks associated with tactical driving situations. These training and combat operations often involve cross country vehicle maneuver which exposes vehicle occupants to increased rollover risk. Terrain data and recon is one of the only increased risk factors that is not primarily caused by the vehicle form factor. When understanding rollover and collision risk it is clear that the vehicle form factor is the primary cause of many of these risks. The vehicles are heavy and tall. The windows are smaller and more difficult to see through. The vehicles have longer wheelbases and less maneuverability than their up-armored HMMWV predecessors. These factors increase driver and crew maneuver risk but are in place to mitigate the primary risk to those crews, which are the kinetic and explosive dangers of direct fire and improvised explosive devices. The challenge in reducing secondary battlefield risks like rollovers and vehicle collisions is that the vehicle form factor is driven by those primary risk factors. Convergent 3D’s software solution is built to increase driver visibility, truck commander terrain reconnaissance resources, and reduce rollover risk given that vehicle form factor. Our software algorithms and processes convert standard two-dimensional video input, and display the video as full-motion, real-time, three-dimensional output with realistic depth-of-field. A lenticular display lens is used to view the three dimensional video without need for special glasses. This kind of software solution that integrates into the systems currently deployed in these MRAP series vehicles dramatically increases driver awareness.

The increased risk of rollovers in military vehicles is driven by the need to protect against a constantly evolving kinetic and explosive threat. The United States Armed Forces and the supporting vehicle vendors are innovating to reduce risk of injury and death to crews, but the result is a vehicle at much higher rollover risk. Rollovers are killing service members in worldwide operations and training domestically. Software solutions like those presented by Convergent 3D offer options for reducing that risk without compromising vehicle form factor.

[1]  “DoD Orders 2,400 MRAPs from 3 Firms”. DefenseNews.com. 2007-10-18. Archived from the original on 2013-01-03.

[2]  Wojdyla, Ben. “Chicago Auto Show: International MaxxPro”. Jalopnik. Archived from the original on 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2008-02-09.